Timeline of a Mega-Musical—King Kong’s Road to Broadway

Special Features   Timeline of a Mega-Musical—King Kong’s Road to Broadway The mammoth Australian production King Kong is set to conquer Broadway in fall 2018. Featuring a one-ton, two-story animatronic silverback gorilla puppet as its star, it promises to be a musical like no other.
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Eight years after it was first announced, the new show King Kong is now set to roar on Broadway beginning in fall 2018 at the Broadway Theatre.

The Australian mega-musical has undergone several overhauls since its 2013 Melbourne premiere.

We take a look back at the show’s road to Broadway:

SEPTEMBER 6, 2010: PLANS ANNOUNCED TO ADAPT KING KONG INTO BROADWAY MUSICAL
Australian production company Global Creatures (the creative studio behind the arena spectacular Walking With Dinosaurs) announces that it has obtained rights to bring a musical adaptation of Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 black-and-white adventure classic to the stage.

King Kong – Live on Stage is targeted for a 2013 Broadway arrival. The creative team includes director Daniel Kramer and Tony-winning book writer-playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza). The score is to be an amalgam of original material by music producer-composer Marius de Vries (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet) and contemporary arrangements of period songs from the Depression era.

Daniel Kramer, Craig Lucas, Carmen Pavlovic, and Marius de Vries
Daniel Kramer, Craig Lucas, Carmen Pavlovic, and Marius de Vries

The show’s star—a massive silverback gorilla—will be realized onstage by a sophisticated animatronic-marionette puppet hybrid that will be controlled by hydraulics, automation, and manual manipulation from a team of puppeteer/aerialists.

“We want to immerse the audience in the emotional journey of the book and music as much as the spectacle of our pioneering animatronics and puppetry,” Carmen Palovic, chief executive of Global Creatures, said in a statement.

Global Creatures releases the first photos of the one-ton, 20-foot-tall Kong puppet in technical workshops.

A model from Global Creatures
A model from Global Creatures Simon Schluter

OCTOBER 9, 2011: KING KONG ANNOUNCES PREMIERE IN MELBOURNE AHEAD OF BROADWAY
Boasting a cast of more than 40 onstage actors, singers, dancers, and puppeteers, King Kong is announced to debut at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, starting in early 2013.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2012: WORKSHOPS BEGIN—KING KONG ATTRACTS STAR MUSICIANS
Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan announces on social media that she is among the musicians contributing music to the score for King Kong. Her song, “What’s It Gonna Take,” is written for the character Ann Darrow.

OCTOBER 7, 2012: PRINCIPAL CASTING ANNOUNCED—SCORE WILL FEATURE ADDITIONAL SONGS BY MASSIVE ATTACK, JUSTICE, THE AVALANCHES
Esther Hannaford is announced to play Ann Darrow, the dazzling blonde who becomes Kong’s obsession. It is also revealed that revamped versions of “Get Happy,” “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” and “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” will be mixed with new and existing songs from contemporary artists including Robert Del Naja from Massive Attack, Sarah McLachlan, Justice, Guy Garvey from Elbow, and The Avalanches.

NOVEMBER 29, 2012: KING KONG PRODUCERS EYE BROADWAY’S FOXWOODS THEATRE
Even before its Australian premiere, Kong producers begin the search for a suitable Broadway theatre to house the technically advanced production. Now targeting a 2014 New York arrival, King Kong producers zero in on the Foxwood’s Theatre, home to the troubled and technically-demanding musical spectacle Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Producers also pitch King Kong to the Shubert Organization, which owns another large venue, the Broadway Theatre.

MAY 9, 2013: SONGS FROM KING KONG ARE RELEASED IN STREAMING TEASER
Audiences get their first taste of the show’s score in a streaming sampler. Among the tracks named are “The Greatest Show on Earth,” (music by Justice and Marius de Vries, lyrics by Daniel Kramer, Craig Lucas, and Marius de Vries); “In The Face of Forever” (music and lyrics by 3D from Massive Attack, Guy Garvey, and de Vries); and “What’s It Gonna Take?” (music and lyrics by Sarah McLachlan).


JUNE 15, 2013: WORLD PREMIERE OF KING KONG OFFICIALLY OPENS
After previews that began May 28, King Kong’s, world-premiere opening night June 15, 2013 is met with encouraging, but mixed reviews. The show earns praise for its impressive technical achievements. Critics and audiences are uniformly dazzled by the site of the colossal animatronic silverback gorilla; however, most reviews report a lack of dramatic cohesion between the show’s book and score.

King Kong is a historic theatre event, a technologically sophisticated confection for the senses that you’ll never forget,” The Age reported. “A somewhat flimsy book is the show’s weakest link, and there are scenes where you feel your senses boggled as a substitute for, rather than as a technique for enhancing, dramatic narrative.”

The cast of <i>King Kong</i>
The cast of King Kong James Morgan

The Herald Sun gave the show 4 out of 5 stars, reporting, “The six-metre Kong is the runaway star of this new musical and the most fully developed character on stage because of his expressive, almost human face, imposing physicality, majesty and grace. ... However, songs must advance story and illuminate characters and, although Marius De Vries’ compositions are rousing and diverse, and individual songs by contemporary artists have a distinctive flavour, the repertoire lacks a consistent voice and unified vision.”

The Australian stated, “King Kong has redefined the musical form. The musical adaptation of the romantic adventure fantasy King Kong lived up to expectations of the capacity crowd, with a dazzling staging that had the audience on its feet, howling approval at the curtain-calls. The meticulous preparation and an extended run of previews ensured the premiere—the world’s first—was as sharp as a whip-crack. Complex scene changes segued effortlessly, ensuring the multi-layered production was a seamlessly unified whole. ... King Kong is not a production led and carried forward by its songs, a la Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! or Stephen Sondheim’s music-theatre pieces. Nor is it a show where the musical content dictates the action. King Kong contains elements of both, but in here everything is turbo-charged by breathtaking imagery of such power that the spectacle itself becomes the main game.”

The musical immediately extends its run through August, with an additional extension through October.

JULY 29, 2013: KING KONG WINS TOP AUSTRALIAN THEATRE AWARDS
Nominated for eight Helpmann Awards, Australia’s equivalent to the Tony and Olivier Awards, King Kong wins in four design categories: Best Scenic Design (Peter England), Best Costume Design (Roger Kirk), Best Lighting Design (Peter Mumford), and Best Sound Design (Peter Hylenski). A special honor was also given for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement for the design, creation, execution, and operation of the visually-arresting animatronic Kong.

NOVEMBER 14, 2013: WITH AN EYE TO THE FUTURE, KING KONG ANNOUNCES FINAL MELBOURNE EXTENSION
Producers announce that King Kong will play its final Melbourne performance February 16, 2014. Pavlovic tells the New York Times that she anticipates launching a second production in 2014, with a third to follow in 2015. London, Seoul, Japan, Germany, and Holland are also potential markets for the musical. It is still projected that King Kong could bow on Broadway within a year.

JANUARY 28, 2014: KING KONG ON TRACK FOR DECEMBER BROADWAY OPENING AT FOXWOODS THEATRE

Esther Hannaford
Esther Hannaford James Morgan

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark ends its Broadway run at the Foxwood’s Theatre January 4, 2014, and it seems that the expansive venue (one of Broadway’s largest in terms of seating capacity and backstage space) has found its next tenant. Global Creatures Chairman Gerry Ryan tells Australian Radio Station 3AW, “I was in New York recently and went to the theatre, and so, they’re getting ready — Spider-Man’s closed there at the Foxwoods, and we’ll be opening on December 12 this year.” Ryan also reveals that creative changes are being made for New York.

MARCH 6, 2014: KING KONG DELAYS BROADWAY ARRIVAL
Producers release a statement that King Kong will undergo creative changes before debuting in New York, and that additional time is needed to work on the production. No timeline is given for the show’s targeted premiere. “King Kong has been more than five years in the making and we are thrilled with the production that played to packed houses in Melbourne,” Pavlovic said at the time. “We learnt so much from this first engagement. We realize that there are some exciting creative changes we can and want to make before King Kong comes home to New York City and we don’t want to be pressured to rush in to meet any artificial deadlines. We want to make the best possible show. We will announce our plans when we can confirm our time-line to open on Broadway. It will be worth the wait!”

A Broadway revival of On the Town snatches up the Foxwoods Theatre.

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014: ORIGINAL CREATIVE TEAM MEMBERS PART WAYS WITH KONG
Director Daniel Kramer and librettist Craig Lucas, key creative team members from the Melbourne world premiere, depart King Kong due to “creative differences.”

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright-librettist Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden, The Bridges of Madison County, ‘Night Mother) is brought on to rewrite the book for King Kong, while a new director is sought. Tony-winning director John Rando (Urinetown, On the Town) is approached to helm the project.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2015: JASON ROBERT BROWN AND ERIC SCHAEFFER JOIN MARSHA NORMAN ON CREATIVE TEAM

Jason Robert Brown, Marsha Normon, and Eric Schaeffer
Jason Robert Brown, Marsha Normon, and Eric Schaeffer

Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade, Honeymoon in Vegas) is tapped to collaborate on the score with Marius de Vries. King Kong reunites Brown with Norman, his Bridges of Madison County collaborator, who will write both book and lyrics.

A late October reading is planned in New York with director Eric Schaeffer (Follies, Gigi, Million Dollar Quartet) now at the helm.

“I’m primarily just there to write songs for the characters,” Brown told Playbill at the time. “What Marsha and I are there to do, really, is to give the humans some life, because I think they weren’t particularly alive in the Australian version, which I’ve only seen on tape. It’s a good task. It’s a big task, and we’re still in the middle of it. We’re trying to make sure the show is not just about how great that big puppet is, but to make sure that all the people who surround it are the people you root for and care for.”

FEBRUARY 19, 2016: NEW VERSION OF KING KONG GETS HIGH PROFILE PRESENTATION WITH BROADWAY PLAYERS
The show’s new creative team, which now includes Emmy-winning choreographer Joshua Bergasse, tests their treatment of the musical in an industry-only staged presentation.

Among the cast are Robert Creighton as Benny, Lora Lee Gayer as Ann Darrow, Marc Kudisch as Carl Denham, Euan Morton as Jack Driscoll.

OCTOBER 27, 2016: KING KONG AGAIN CHANGES COURSE, MARSHA NORMAN EXITS
After two years of work on the project, Norman announces her exit from Kong, telling the New York Times there were major dramatic challenges in humanizing a creature “doesn’t speak or sing.”

King Kong producers issue a statement indicating that further changes to the show’s structure and creative team are in store. “What has become evident throughout the process of readings and workshops is that King Kong—with its distinct physicality—doesn’t fit the traditional book musical format,” Pavlovic said. “We are greatly indebted to everyone involved in this exploratory phase of the work, including the brilliant Marsha Norman who helped bring us to that understanding earlier this year. As a result of this earlier development we feel confident about the new structure we’ve found for the show. The next steps will be announced soon.”

MAY 17, 2017: KING KONG SETS FALL 2018 BROADWAY OPENING WITH NEW CREATIVE TEAM

King Kong

Pavlovic and co-producer Roy Furman announce that King Kong will debut in fall 2018 at the Broadway Theatre with a new creative team (the show’s third). Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright Jack Thorne signs on to write a new treatment for the show, which will be directed and choreographed by Olivier Award winner Drew McOnie (Strictly Ballroom, In the Heights). Australian songwriter Eddie Perfect, who is also adapting Beetlejuice for Broadway, joins de Vries to collaborate on the score.

“Drew’s physical world will allow Kong to live in ways we never thought possible,” producers say in a statement. Promising “a theatrical experience that we hope will astound audiences, while delighting them with its heartfelt storytelling.”

Flip through photos of the original Australian production:

Visit kingkongaliveonbroadway.com.

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